Israeli food bank chief boosts Tucson food rescue plans

Tucson Hebrew Academy seventh-grader Maxim Quint and Joseph Gitler, founder of Leket Israel, the National Food Bank of Israel

The Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and the America-Israel Friendship League recently hosted Joseph Gitler, founder and director of Leket Israel, the National Food Bank of Israel. Gitler was invited to visit Tucson because of Leket’s long association with both organizations; through its grants process, JCF has provided funding to Leket Israel since 2006.

Gitler, a native New Yorker who made aliyah in 2000, founded Leket in 2003 and has grown it into an organization that rescues or gleans more than $17 million worth of food in Israel every year. Leket receives food from restaurants, catered events, supermarkets and corporate cafeterias and delivers it daily to over 270 charities throughout the country.

Leket’s goals are to support existing charities running soup kitchens, food aid distribution programs and day care centers for the elderly, disabled and children at risk; and to enhance the public’s awareness of food waste, food rescue and healthy eating choices.

As part of Gitler’s visit to Tucson, he spent a morning at the Tucson Hebrew Academy with fifth through eighth grade students. The eighth graders were excited about the prospect of volunteering in Leket Israel’s farm gleaning program when they travel to Israel this May. Students also were eager to learn more about how they could help rescue food in the Tucson community.

To that end, a JCF committee has been formed to investigate how to extend the reach of food rescue programs in the Tucson Jewish community and beyond.

JCF board member Anne Hameroff, who is co-chairing the initiative with fellow native Tucsonan and JCF board member Jane Ash, says, “The Jewish community has long been committed to mitigating hunger in Tucson. But after meeting Joseph and learning about Leket Israel, we realize there is so much more we could be doing. A successful food rescue program would be a major enhancement to the Jewish community’s ongoing response to hunger.”